I’m reading a book called Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. There are questions at the end of each chapter. I decided to write my answers in an effort to dig a little deeper. Writing helps me clarify my thinking. I’m writing for myself, but decided to share as blog posts in case someone else might find my wandering thoughts interesting or useful.
What were some of the major economic, political, demographic, and pop culture trends from ten years before your birth until age twenty? How did they show up in your life? How do you think they influenced your beliefs?
I was born in 1954, so I’m right in the middle of the baby boom generation.
Five Major Economic, Political, Demographic and Pop Culture Trends of My Childhood and Youth (In No Particular Order)
- The Viet Nam War
- The Civil Rights Movement
- Assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr.
- The Cold War with Russia/The Atomic Bomb
- Hippies/Free Love/Flower Power/Protests/Rock and Roll/Drugs
Viet Nam War
I watched the Viet Nam War on the news at night as a child, which I discussed in an earlier post. As I got into high school, the war had much more of an impact on my life as boys I knew were being drafted. My brother stayed in college so he wouldn’t lose his deferment. I marched in a local candlelight vigil against the war when I was sixteen or seventeen. I thought the anti-war movement was romantic and it was something I could relate to, because the war affected people I cared about. I had almost no understanding of the politics of the war or the military industrial complex that perpetuated it. My understanding and involvement in protests was intensely personal. I only had an understanding of events in relationship as to how they affected me.
Civil Rights Movement
Which is probably one reason I remember so little about the Civil Rights Movement. It seemed far away. The Black people I saw on television, Bill Cosby, Nat King Cole, and Diahann Carroll, appeared to be doing fine and I didn’t associate the oppression of Jim Crow with them. The injustices did not affect me or anyone I knew on a personal level. It makes me sad, looking back, that I was so insular and self-centered that I paid little attention to one of the most profound social movements of my lifetime.
My parents rarely discussed the news and didn’t talk about the Civil Rights Movement or any of the inequalities that led to the movement. I also don’t remember discussing the Civil Rights Movement in school, which just boggles my mind. How could we not have covered it in classes? We still had Civics in those days. It’s possible we talked about it and I just don’t remember. My focus was not on school in those days. My major focus was boys.
I was nine years old when President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the news came over the loudspeaker in school and my teacher cried. My family was glued to the television, watching the news and the funeral. I watched with them but was too young to truly appreciate the gravity of the event.
I was older when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. I remember the assignation of Robert Kennedy much more clearly than that of Dr. King. I was a teenager, and my friends and I talked about Kennedy, bought magazines with him on the cover and nurtured crushes on his sons, several of whom were close to me in age.
The Cold War with Russia/The Atomic Bomb
The Cold War was frightening for me as a child. We learned that we could be blown up at any minute. We had bomb threat drills and hid under our desks, not understanding how little protection the desks would provide if we were hit with a nuclear bomb. I remember the anxiety associated with those drills very well. When I was about six, I saw a plane flying over our house. It had a banner behind it, some advertising thing, but I couldn’t read the words. In my head, it was a Russian plane coming to kill us. Fortunately, I found my father who read the advertisement to me and put my mind at rest. I remember those feelings of fear when I read about school shootings and children now having to go through active shooter drills in their schools. These drills seem so much worse, because a school shooting is much more likely than a nuclear war. I can’t imagine being a child or raising a child with these fears. What are we doing to our children and why has it gotten worse, not better?
Hippies/Free Love/Flower Power/Protests/Rock and Roll/Drugs
I was a hippie-wannabe. In high school, I wanted to go to Haight Ashbury in San Francisco and live free and large. I wanted my boyfriends to have long hair and be anti-establishment (whatever that meant). But, overall, I was pretty conventional and did not have the courage to run away and become a hippie. Plus, I had a safe and comfortable home. I had very little reason to leave, except if I wanted to rebel for the sake of rebellion or to make the world a better place. I didn’t break curfew and I kept my grades up, but I did smoke pot and even dropped acid a few times. I listened to music that my parents didn’t understand or like (Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, lots of others). I wore army boots and my father’s long underwear shirts to school and thought I was pretty counter-culture. I never got caught with drugs and was fortunate not to get in more trouble than I did. Fortunate and privileged. As a lower-middle class white girl, I was never a target of the police.
Thinking about those times, many years ago, I’m sad to realize how insulated I was from the problems of the world. Not that I would have been better off to have had more problems, but I had no understanding of the lives of others. I lived a life of privilege. Not class, so much, although by the time I was in high school, we were solidly lower middle class. But certainly white privilege, and the privilege of living in my own world, where I could pick and choose my causes and what affected me. My family was not perfect, as no family is, but my parents were kind and loving and took care of me. I didn’t have to worry about abuse or not having enough to eat. I felt safe in my home and community, which is a huge privilege. My biggest fear was the Russian invasion, which was not insignificant, but fifty years later, I don’t know that it has had an enormous impact on me, not like the school shootings have on kids today when they’re terrified to even go to school.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better,” Maya Angelou said. I have learned so much over the years. I know better now than I did then. I’m trying to grow and do better every day. I’m trying to read more, educate myself, and listen to people of color.
I sound like I’m asking for extra credit for just doing the right thing, and I don’t want to do that. I’m discussing my story, my history, my facts in an effort to understand where I’ve been and where I need to go. I’m hoping to have a conversation with other white people, so we can move forward together. I’m still making mistakes, still doing stupid things, still staying stuck in my privilege in so many ways, forgetting that I can pick and choose my battles, but people of color never get a choice or a break. I’m grateful to have good friends in this journey. People who will call me in and let me know when I’ve blundered and help hold me accountable as I strive to do better. Please let me know what you think.